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Oct 25, 2020 - 5:55:57 PM
4 posts since 10/7/2014

Hi all, peripatetic banjo learner here, clawhammer style.

In my continuing journey to rely on my ear and not on tablature: how did you learn to tell from the sound how a banjo was tuned?

This might not have a clear answer other than "learn how different tunings sound in general." And I'm usually pretty good at saying "yep, that's a modal tuning." The KEY of the tuning is more of a mystery though.

If there are any learning resources out there I'd be much obliged to know about them.

Thanks!

Oct 25, 2020 - 11:31:31 PM
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KatB

USA

123 posts since 9/3/2018

I’m working on learning by ear as well. The easy/lazy but highly effective solution is just to google the name of the tune in quotes, followed by “banjo tuning,” or “key”. There’s also the tab search option https://www.banjohangout.org/w/tab/browse/m/byletter/v/A
Maybe that’d feel like cheating to you.  You don’t have to actually LOOK at the tab :) I do try to guess before I look it up, to build that mental muscle. 

Oct 26, 2020 - 1:49:23 AM
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527 posts since 2/15/2015

Remember tuning forks? It was a big deal when you could finally afford that little bit of extra case candy.

An easy way to figure out tunings is with a piano or keyboard. Or, tune to standard G (with a tuning fork) and find the notes on the fretboard and run arpeggios of the tuning commiting it to ear and fingers. 

Personnally I use and app, which counters that tinnitus I got going on.

Edited by - geoB on 10/26/2020 01:57:07

Oct 26, 2020 - 4:30:28 AM
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Bill H

USA

1421 posts since 11/7/2010

If they are old time traditional tunes there is typically a traditional key that the tune is played in. If in a jam, often the fiddler calls the tune and they will state the key. Certain tunings make it easier to play melody notes and the chords for a tune. It is really up to you to decide if a tune is easier for you to play in standard G tuning or in a different tuning. Shady Grove is easier to play with your second string tuned up to C (capo 2), but certainly can be played out of standard tuning (Capo 2). I take two banjos to a jam and keep one in G tuning and one in gCGCD. If a tune is unfamiliar I might play chord out of an open G tuning even if a tune is in D. Over time your ear will become accustomed to picking up on tunings and you will become familiar with the old time repertoire of commonly played tuned and their key. One frustrating thing for me with Youtube is that many won't bother to capo for A or D tunes. At real time jams, the fiddle (almost) always plays in the traditional key so it is good to learn tunes this way.

Oct 26, 2020 - 12:47:11 PM

61 posts since 10/13/2010

Are you asking how to tell if the banjo is tuned to open G, C modal, Double C, capo'ed A? Or how to tell what key the song is in?

Oct 26, 2020 - 1:02:37 PM
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hoodoo

Canada

741 posts since 10/6/2017

After a while, it becomes easier to figure out if a tune is in standard g, double c or g modal. When I'm stuck, I try and 'look' out for certain notes.
After an even longer while, you start to figure out alternative tunings. A trick that I use is trying to find out whether a certain player tends to stay in the more popular tunings or if he-she tends to play around with different tunings. If its the former, its pretty easy to figure out. The banjoey songs are in standard G, the lonesome sounding tunes are in modal tuning and the fiddley tunes are in double C.

Oct 26, 2020 - 3:26:03 PM

3023 posts since 10/17/2009

Each tuning has advantages to use of certain open strings, gapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, drop thumbs, chord shapes; creating a certain sound, flow, transition and ease of playing certain things (and not for other things).

Gain experience in working out tunes in those different tunings, paying attention to flow and sound.... many become more apparent reason the tuning was chosen in the first place... takes advantage of the tuning. At some point, many things are fairly recognizable in the sound... can make pretty intuitive guess.

edit: the key puts things in to starting defaults. C tunings vs G tunings (or capo up equivalent). That they are a fifth apart in key or melodic range. Some more obscure tunings,, with unusual fifth string, or extra low bas strings also are quickly noticeable.

Edited by - banjoak on 10/26/2020 15:36:52

Oct 26, 2020 - 7:53:39 PM
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4 posts since 10/7/2014

quote:
Originally posted by hoodoo

...The banjoey songs are in standard G, the lonesome sounding tunes are in modal tuning and the fiddley tunes are in double C.


In all sincerity, this is the best kind of mnemonic for me!  Thank you!

Oct 27, 2020 - 7:21:13 AM
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3536 posts since 3/28/2008

quote:
Originally posted by banjoak

Each tuning has advantages to use of certain open strings, gapping, hammer-ons, pull-offs, drop thumbs, chord shapes; creating a certain sound, flow, transition and ease of playing certain things (and not for other things).

Gain experience in working out tunes in those different tunings, paying attention to flow and sound.... many become more apparent reason the tuning was chosen in the first place... takes advantage of the tuning. At some point, many things are fairly recognizable in the sound... can make pretty intuitive guess.

 


Our friend banjoak is right. I'd add that most of us don't have perfect pitch. I sure don't. But any musician can, with experience, develop relative pitch--the ability to recognize the interval between two notes.

So while I may not be able to tell what key a recording is in, I can tell what tuning is being used. G tuning will sound like G tuning whether it's open or capo'd, because the intervals between the open strings are the same regardless. I may have to go pluck a string on my own banjo, though, to figure out whether the capo is on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th fret.

G tuning, C tuning, D tuning, double C, and G modal all have distinctive sounds that you'll come to recognize the more you use them.  More exotic tunings (like the B-flat tuning [!] Bela Fleck used on his tune "Blue Mountain Hop") may require a little more figuring out, but even there, you can get your bearings by listening for the sound of open strings and how they relate to the root of the key.

Oct 27, 2020 - 7:34:09 AM

3536 posts since 3/28/2008

Here are some examples from the bluegrass world, with which I'm more familiar. Listen for the distinctive sounds of the different tunings.

G tuning:

youtube.com/watch?v=ZQAazUWhWWk

D tuning:

youtube.com/watch?v=_ncd2y1_r8I

C tuning:

youtube.com/watch?v=FSG282FlfB8.

Oct 27, 2020 - 11:06:22 AM
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Players Union Member

janolov

Sweden

40797 posts since 3/7/2006

Finding the key is one problem, finding the tuning is another problem. For example if a tune is in the key of G  majorthe tuning may be gDGBD, gDGDE ("Old G"), gEADE or other. If the key is D major the tuning may be aDADE (double D) , aDF#AD (open D), aDEAD , aBEAD or similar (these tunings also occur with the fifth string tuned to f# instead of a).  And the same for most other keys - there are several tunings that can be used for each key. The best way to find out the tuning is to first identify the key, and then listen carefully for:

  • which is the lowest note that can be hear (often it is the open fourth string)
  • the drone note (fifth string)
  • open strings often sound a little louder and longer than fretted. Also, many OT banjo players choose tuning where there are several open strings, just to minimize the fretting work.
  • common two-note progressions like slide or hammer on (hammer on starts often - but far from always - on an open string).
Nov 7, 2020 - 6:52:34 AM

2264 posts since 2/10/2013

Playing experience. As your playing repertoire grows, and if you start playing tunes using other tunings, you will learn to recognize the different tunings. Bluegrass doesn't use all that many different tunings. Here are a few example you can listen to on Youtube.

Home Sweet Home - "C" Tuning - GCBD
Nashville Blues "Dm" Tuning - AFAD
Reuben "D" Tuning - F# D A D"

Nov 11, 2020 - 3:54:12 AM
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3706 posts since 12/6/2009

I can hear G C or D......open....capo-ed is a different story.I use my hearing (depend on ear) only for melodies. don't worry about banjo tuning's by ear as guessing the key is matching the root note in most cases. A particular sound needed of course needs the right tuning....that I have to go look for.....thank god for computers....lol
reminds me....years ago was working in a house with a jazz sax player (painter) and there was a piano in the house....fooling around we found out the guy could hum a note tell us what note it was and then we'd match it on the piano......the man was right on 90% time.....uncanny...and boy could he sing

Edited by - overhere on 11/11/2020 03:55:59

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